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Review: "Anna Karenina"

2012-11-06 15:24:40        Chinese Films

Poster of "Anna Karenina." [Photo: douban]


There must have been half a dozen movie adaptations of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina, but recently, British director Joe Wright has come up with a new one starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Matthew Macfadyen. So what makes this one different from previous versions? Our movie reviewer Laiming will tell you more.



Boldness does not suffice as a term with which to describe Joe Wright's attempt at the adaptation of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy's masterpiece Anna Karenina. Granted, some criticisms from feverish book-lovers are well grounded, but I believe the British director has supplied an interpretation that is at the same time revolutionary and faithful.

The most subversive idea is perhaps the decision to set the story in a theatre. As Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian notes, both the art form and social occasion run contrary to Tolstoy's artistic belief. But I would add that this arrangement is entirely necessary. I mean, who hasn't read the great novel, or watched any one of the half dozen film adaptations? To distinguish his work, Wright needed to come up with something unconventional.

And as absurd and vain as it may appear, as Tolstoy himself might have believed, this unconventional place liberates the actors and actresses' dramatic potential and generates a far greater impact among the audience. The flow from scene to scene is impeccable. And the strikingly colorful and lively spectacle keeps the viewers expecting more. We all know the story, but Joe Wright still managed to surprise us. When Keira Knightley and Aaron Taylor-Johnson invade the ball with their treacherous love during their first dance, they managed to take our breaths away.

Keira Knightley may carry too much pride for her role, but that aptly explains her final suicide. Furthermore, her vigor makes her stand out among the Petersburg ladies in the late 19th century. Taylor-Johnson is weak, but Jude Law plays a good husband and father. Even Levin and Kitty get due-attention and ample screen time. Some critics have voiced objection to Wright's interpretation of the characters, but based on my limited understanding of Tolstoy's work, I am all for it.

Tolstoy likes to capture human beings as wretched, imperfect souls, but with longings for a divine sort of perfection. For that purpose, the omission of Levin and Kitty's part is unforgivable, because both represent the author's ideal for humanity and happy family. Joe Wright's edition incorporates not only Levin and Kitty, but also the unhappy marriage of Anna's brother. Anna's reckless pursuit for love is the main drive of the story, while the subplot of the other two couples serves as a comparison to remind us: all happy families are alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

In the new adaptation of Anna Karenina, Joe Wright is triumphantly expressive and articulate, but once the viewers get use to the style, they will refocus their attention on the characters. In the second half, neither Jude Law nor Taylor-Johnson helps Knightley carry her part, so what we get is a sudden turn of events which take us unawares, and that's where the criticisms are justified.

So on my scale of one to ten, I give Joe Wright's Anna Karenina a seven.

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